“You mess with the bull, you get the horns.”
The Montreal Canadiens tallied three times in 75 seconds early in period two to turn a 2-1 deficit into a two puck lead and were still leading the Washington Capitals by a goal late in the second period when Max Domi decided to go after Dmitry Orlov. Both dropped the gloves with Dima getting some good licks in early, but then the son of the former great NHL fighter, Tie, took over. However, with Orlov on his knees and the linesmen jumping in to break things up, Domi threw an extra punch and that is a no-no in hockey.
You could see the anger coming from the Washington players, at that point, especially from Captain Alex Ovechkin (two goals), and boy did he make the Habs pay for Domi’s sin.
The Gr8 tied the game up on the power play just 1:02 into the third period and then pumped several other quality chances on Carey Price (29 saves), including one that #31 stopped with the knob of his goalie stick in the final seconds of this affair. Ovechkin was so impressed with that save that he actually clapped for the Montreal keeper. The Caps dominated the third period outshooting Montreal, 14-7, and would have won in regulation if not for Price.
Off to overtime the game went and Braden Holtby (22 saves), who came on in relief of Pheonix Copley (18 saves on 22 shots) after the three goal second period barrage, made a huge save on Brendan Gallagher to give his club a chance. The Caps would deliver 3:34 into the extra session needing only one shot to win this affair, a Lars Eller snipe from the slot after a great rush up the ice and feed by Jakub Vrana.
Montreal is a very fast team and is off to an excellent start, so this was a quality triumph. It was also a big win without T.J. Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Brooks Orpik and it made up for “The One That Got Away” in this building back on November 1st. The victory ended an eight day, four game road trip that saw the Caps go 3-1. It’s no surprise that since Tom Wilson (two assists vs. Montreal) returned to the lineup that the Capitals have been a more energized squad.
Early on and at the start of the second period, though, you had to wonder if the Caps were out of gas because Montreal was flying. Washington made some poor decisions with the puck and it cost them a lead they fought back to get in the last 10 minutes of period one. Copley actually didn’t play poorly; all three goals he gave up in the second frame were the result of shoddy defensive play by Washington. Capitals Coach Todd Reirden, though, knew he had to change the momentum and inserting the Holtbeast, who has a super record in Montreal, was the right move, at that point.
Ovi, who seems to always play well at the Bell Centre, didn’t get a point on Nicklas Backstrom’s snipe at 13:20 of period two that made it 4-3, but he helped make the goal happen by driving to the net and opening up a passing lane for Christian Djoos to All Star Nicky. That tally gave the Caps life, but the Habs were still in control and threatening to extend the lead. Then the Domi-Orlov fight happened with just over a minute to go in period two and from there, it was pretty much Washington’s game.
The Capitals were clearly galvanized by the late punch to Orlov and they responded with an unbelievable effort. Players were acting as if it was the Stanley Cup Playoffs the way they were taking the body, sacrificing to block shots, and back checking like demons. This has certainly been a different team over the last week with Willy back and one can only hope that when Kuzy and Osh Babe return from injuries that the team continues to take their performance to another level after a mostly blah first 16 games.
The Holtbeast wasn’t supposed to play in this one, but he ended up coming in and making a huge difference. Montreal still had several great chances to score, most notably the back door attempt by Gallagher in OT, but #70 was dialed in and looks completely recovered from the upper body injury that kept him out of the lineup over the last week or so. Washington received very good goaltending on this trip and a huge upside was the play of Copley, who laid to rest concerns about the backup goalie situation. Goaltending is at a premium in the NHL and the Caps look to be in good shape there, once again.
This victory improves the Caps to 10-7-3 (23 points), but more importantly they have now won two games in a row for only the second time this season. The team is trending up, despite the injuries, and that uptick has been the result of better energy and efforts. Wilson has certainly been a huge factor in the resurgence, but each player is feeding off of his vibe and doing their part. Domi also threw gasoline on the fire in this contest, and the Capitals made Montreal pay.
Notes: Matt Niskanen wrestled Kenny Agostino to the ice in period two after the Canadien put a questionable hit on Devante Smith-Pelly…Ovechkin now has 15 goals in 24 games in Montreal (28 points)…John Carlson had two assists in 25:59 of team leading ice time…Montreal had four players with less than 10 minutes of ice time to just one for the Caps (Dmitri Jaskin). The Habs just returned from a West Coast trip and they were unable to match the Caps intensity after the fight…Washington won the face off battle, 38-36. Backstrom was 14-11…Brett Connolly tied the game at one with a nice rebound goal of a Carlson shot that went off of the back boards. Good things happen when you go to the net…Wilson’s pass to Ovi on the Gr8’s first tally, that gave the Caps a 2-1 lead, was a work of art. It was right on Alex’s tape and he tapped it home behind Price…Ovi has 15 goals in 20 games this season (61 goal pace). He’s 2nd in the NHL to David Pastrnak of Boston, who has 17…Caps announcer Craig Laughlin called the comeback when Montreal was up 4-2. Well done, Locker!…the Caps next game is Wednesday night at 7 pm at Capital One Arena against the Chicago Blackhawks.